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Building a Single Speed: Wheel Building

By far the trickiest part of building the single speed bike (and, consequently, the most fun) was building the wheel.  I was a little hesitant to take on wheel assembly, but I couldn’t cop out and not try to give it a shot.  It turns out, it’s rather easy and a lot of fun.  Once you get the pattern down lacing the spokes is pretty straightforward, and out of all the parts of bike building this step really connects you to the bike.

The first round of spokes are in. Luckily, the Rebel Yell was close at hand.

The Wheels

The wheels are a pair of Velocity Deep V‘s with Origin-8 branded hubs (they’re actually made by Formula).  The spokes are DT Champions.  Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about calculating spoke length because I ordered everything from Ride Brooklyn (a great bike store in Park Slope) and they took care of the details.


I did a lot of research before I got started.  Books weren’t that helpful, as you really need to learn by example to mimic what’s going on as you lace the spokes.  I found the best video on building a 36 hole front wheel from the bike tube on YouTube. I’d just skip to wheel building part two where the action starts.  The bike tube also has two videos on lacing a 32 hole rear wheel.  It’s the same lacing pattern, but the video goes into a little more depth when building the wheel.  The three cross pattern (which means a spoke crosses three other spokes between the hub and rim) is the same between front and rear wheels.

The first set of spokes are in. Notice the spoke next to the valve hole. The second set of spokes should go in to the right of this one, so it doesn’t straddle the valve hole. Or, you can start one away from the valve hole, and string the second set between the valve hole and the first spoke. The alternate side spoke goes in the flange hole immediately adjacent to the spoke on the opposite side.

I recommend watching both sets.  The approach is a little different in that the 32 hole front wheel has you lace one side first, then the other, while the 36 hole rear wheel has you lace alternate sides (you put in for sets of spokes: the “innies” and “outies” on both the left and right flange).  The valve hole ends up being in a different place with the rear wheel video- as the author explains, you want it to be between a parallel set of spokes to make using the valve easier.  With the front wheel video the valve ends up being between a slanted set of spokes (I could have also followed the video incorrectly).  Not a big deal; it’s just a nuanced difference.

I recommend following the 36 hole front wheel video- it’s a little easier to get the hub centered in the flange because you lace alternate sides.  My rims have 32 holes and there really isn’t any difference in building the wheel.  (A 36 hole wheel has 4 sets of 9 spokes each, while a 32 hole wheel only has 8 spokes per set).

I followed the 32 hole rear wheel video, which laces one side at a time. It proved difficult to lace the 2nd side because the hub wasn’t centered.

Getting Started

I followed the rear wheel video because it was more succinct.  However, I messed up in the process and had to start again.  I laced one side, and the hub was off center- one side was flush with the rim.  This made lacing the second side very difficult, as there wasn’t a lot of give in the hub.  I also had a hard time figuring out where to start lacing on the second side.  I started with the wrong hole, and the hub got very twisted half way through the second side.  I really had to pull to get the nipples connected.  When it proved extremely difficult, I knew I must be doing something wrong.  If you’re fighting the wheel, stop and restart.  You missed something. After starting again, I realized where I went wrong the first time with the second set of spokes on the other side.

Notice how the second set of spikes line up with the valve hole. This will put the valve hole between parallel spokes.

Try, and Try Again

When I attempted to build the wheel again, using the front wheel video, the process was a piece of cake.  Every spoke went in without a hitch.  The benefit of alternating sides while lacing is the hub is centered in the rim which makes connecting the spokes to the nipples very easy (although, I could have messed that up too when following the rear wheel video).

The only glitch (which was a minor issue) is when I did the first wheel the valve hole didn’t end up between parallel spots.  I either messed up following the video, or the front wheel video didn’t make a point to lace the wheel in such a way.  The rear wheel video does explicitly call this out.  As long you don’t end up with the valve hole in a cross spoke triangle you’re all set.  Then it will be impossible to fill the tire with air.

It’s a nuanced difference, but you want the valve hole between parallel spots.

Correcting the error when I did the rear wheel was easy- I just started one hole away from the valve hole, rather than right next to the valve hole.  After I twisted the hub to get the spoke slant to start the second side, I made sure I started the second side next to the valve hole.  This way the two slanted spokes are next to the valve hole, rather than straddling it.  This will put the valve hole between parallel spokes.

The wheel after lacing the second side.


Once I got all the spokes on the wheel I dropped some wet lube on the nipples and tightened every spoke with a screwdriver until only a couple threads remained.  The front wheel came out pretty straight, but the rear wheel was way off.  It just took a little more work with the spoke wrench to get it center.  I came up with a make shift truing stand with the front fork and some plastic sticky tabs (I needed to use the frame to do the rear wheel, but it’s the same idea).

Awesome makeshift truing stand, with helpful plastic sticky tabs used in lieu of calipers.

I placed the sticky tabs as close as possible to the frame and spun the wheel (the wheel spun forever- the hubs must be really slick!).  When the frame hit the tab it would make a noise, and I would adjust.  It’s really hard to see the space shift between the tab and the rim.  The noise thing really helped.  Slow and calculated increments worked best- you really only need a quarter turn.  This approach worked for both the horizontal and vertical trueness.

I have no way of properly checking the dish, so I may need to take a trip to the bike store (dish is making sure the hub is centered on the rim).  I’m also worried that the spokes are too tight.  I read that you shouldn’t have a lot of spoke tension- the spokes feel firm but I definitely need a second opinion.

What’s Next

I’m hoping to get the rest of the parts tomorrow to finish this build.  I’ll have another post to show how it all came together!